Managing Your Work-Life Balance
By Tracey Dowdy:
Finding the perfect work/life balance may seem as impossible to achieve as reaching the summit of Everest and just as fraught with obstacles and frustration. In fact Everest may seem easier, because at least there’s a Sherpa or two to help carry the load!
It doesn’t have to be that way. Finding balance requires foresight, planning and a commitment to maintaining perspective but it’s not beyond your reach. In fact, balance really isn’t even the right word as it implies things are “even” which is a bit absurd. Do you know anyone who has managed to split their personal life and work responsibilities 50/50? Of course not.
It’s not a simple matter of time or attention being split down the middle, more complex than “quality over quantity,” and what that balance looks like for you personally will change over your lifetime.
The first step is to determine what work/life balance looks like for you personally. Does it mean putting in 60 hours Monday to Friday so your weekends are free or is it arranging your schedule to put the kids on the bus and be home when they get off at the end of the day? Maybe it means you work long hours seasonally so you and your partner can travel during the off-season, or maybe you spilt your day so you’re home for dinner every night and then work in your home office after the kids are in bed. It’s different for everyone.
Next, you’ll need to stop and evaluate your priorities. Is doing homework with your kids every night of utmost importance or do you prefer to find a great tutor so you’re free to coach soccer? It’s important to note that individuals who achieve the highest levels of satisfaction with their work/life balance are the ones who involve family members when deciding on their schedules. Your son may not mind that you’re not home to help him do his algebra homework if it means you’ll be on the sideline cheering him on a Saturday morning; likewise, your partner may not mind dining alone occasionally if it means taking that dream vacation.
Above all, give yourself permission to say no. Being on the PTA or headlining the new account may seem like great opportunities but not if it means throwing the rest of your life into chaos or driving your stress level through the roof. Simply put, set your boundaries and do your best to maintain them.
The next step is to identify any obstacles. Do you have debt that means you need to put in overtime to make your mortgage payment? Maybe you have a family member with health issues that pulls you out of the office and into a hospital. If you run your own business, it starts and ends with you so splitting a shift or asking for help on a big project may not be an option. Take stock of the big picture, do your best to pare down unnecessary commitments even if it’s short term, and again give yourself permission to say no. When you’re stressed and overwhelmed your energy drops, your productivity drops and your blood pressure rises. No-one – not your family, not your friends, not your co-workers – gets the best of you when that happens.
Don’t be blinded by obstacles and miss opportunities. More and more companies are seeing the benefit of offering employees flex-time or the option to work from home. Last summer my friend used up her vacation by taking off every Friday after her partner talked his boss into working 4 ten-hour days instead of 5 eight-hour days. As a result, they had eight long weekends in a row. My office allows me five flex hours a week where I can work from home and I must say those are often my most productive hours of the week as I’m not interrupted by phone calls or questions from co-workers.
Go beyond deciding what makes you happy and look at what makes you truly content. Think long term; “Where do you want to be in 10 years?” and “When do I want to retire?” are important questions but equally important is “What kind of legacy am I leaving my family and friends?” If career is your priority, understand that it can come at a price if you aren’t proactive in your personal relationships. The divorce rate among couples after retirement has doubled in the last 20 years; in fact, one in every four divorces is between couples 50 and older. On the other side is a cautionary tale of not thinking ahead causing your family undue financial stress and working years beyond retirement because you didn’t have a plan.
My final piece of advice is don’t live your life in the future tense – “Someday we’ll take that vacation” or “Maybe next time I’ll put in the extra hours for my team.” Take the time to celebrate all your victories, personal and professional. Take pride in your work and your family today, whether that means helping your third grader build a pioneer village diorama out of a shoe box and Lego characters or finally landing that big account you’ve been chasing for months. Celebrate your daughter’s hockey team making it to the finals and your promotion at work and you’ll see that finding joy in the day to day helps you find and maintain that elusive balance.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.